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What does a real DJ do exactly?

November 20, 2014

I know what you’re thinking.  DJs play music!  Ok, you’re right, but only partially right.

There seems to be a huge misconception that has been growing over the past few years about what a DJ does, or at the very least, what they are supposed to do.  If you only think about it for 10 seconds when asked, “What does a DJ do?” 99 out of 100 people will say play music, have cool lights, and make remixes.  That’s your 10 second answer.

Here’s the thing – doesn’t a special occasion deserve more than a 10 second answer?  We believe it does.  In fact, we notice that most people don’t think beyond these 10 seconds, and then when they are calling around looking for the right DJ they don’t know how to differentiate between any of them other than the price.  This has led to people getting duped into buying cheap entertainment that either ruins an event, or said cheap entertainment doesn’t even show up to the event (and even worse, may keep any money you’ve paid them).

So, what does a real DJ do?  I’m going to tell you so you know the difference between a professional that cares about their clients and their craft, and the person that’s just trying to make a quick buck on the side from you as part of their hobby.  Instead of a 10 second answer, I’m going to give you 10 solid answers.

1)  Real DJs help you throughout the planning process.  Ask our recent past clients.  We didn’t just show up to play on the day of.  We were there to help throughout their journey to their day.  This primarily goes for school dances and weddings, but we are here to help for the casual parties too.  

2)  Real DJs know other real professionals.  Let’s say we’re talking about a wedding, and you need recommendations on a cake baker or a photographer.  Someone who has been in the business will have a network of connections to help you find those that will help enhance your day, and even, on the rare occasion, help you avoid those that may not suit your needs.

3)  Real DJs know how important their role is in your night, and they don’t take the responsibility lightly.  If your DJ doesn’t have any method of planning that involves breaking down the various parts of your evening and giving it some kind of organizational structure, then they don’t take your event seriously.  “Just winging it” is never acceptable.  The DJ is responsible for the flow of different events, the energy level in the room, coordinating with other service professionals you have hired and acting as a central hub of communication between them.  The music is maybe 40% of what a DJ does.  Especially for a wedding.  Does the photographer need white lighting at a certain picture opportunity, does the catering staff need a musical cue to bring out dessert, or if there is a buffet service does the DJ need to call the tables – these are just a few examples of how the DJ is central to the success of your event.  The details make up the whole.

4)  Real DJs invest time in education, practice, and study of their craft.  Ask your DJ if they have ever gone to a DJ convention or bothered to learn from a nationally known DJ either through video learning or seminars.  This is important.  Being a DJ & Emcee is a performance art just like playing an instrument or being a public speaker.  It needs to be given proper instruction, practice, and execution with evaluation & feedback.  DJs need to be comfortable speaking in front of an audience without the use of vocal pauses, and without talking too much.  DJs also need to be good performers with musical knowledge and turntable/mixing skills.

5)  Real DJs invest in high-end equipment, and know how to properly use it.  Now, this is an area that is hard for someone not in the business to identify, and no DJ is going to tell you their equipment isn’t quality.  Unfortunately you either need to know this yourself – which means you’ll spend A LOT of time researching something you’ll never need to know again, or get a second opinion from another professional that knows the industry and the equipment used.  If you’ve asked your DJ what brands they use and you can’t make heads or tails of it feel free to give us a call.  We will give honest feedback on your findings:  920-403-0827

6)  Real DJs have insurance and a backup plan.  If your DJ does not carry liability insurance then that leaves you vulnerable in case of a mishap where the DJ is directly involved.  There are a million scenarios that could be described, but the bottom line is if they don’t carry insurance then pass.  Also, ask what their backup plan is.  Real DJs should know and be networked with other real DJs in case something happens.  Also, real DJs carry backup equipment in the event of a failure, and they test out their equipment before an event.

7)  Real DJs should not have an ego, unless that ego is channeled into how well they can take care of you and your guests.  Just go on wedding wire and look at DJ reviews.  You’re bound to find some that talk about how a DJ wouldn’t take requests, or how a DJ was cheesy or rude.  This is not how a professional acts, and this is usually the result of a DJ with the wrong ego, lack of education/experience, or both.  That doesn’t mean the DJ plays a request right away every time someone asks for it, but instead they fit it in with the music and the flow of the evening.  They use their knowledge and expertise to keep the party going and keep as many people happy as possible.

8)  Real DJs don’t throw you under the bus.  Did you put a popular song on your do not play list for an event?  It’s your event, and you have your reasons.  You should not be pressured by a guest to go against this.  That’s why it frustrates us when a DJ says, “I can’t play that because so-and-so said not to.”  That is the wrong answer, because the first thing that person is going to do is go bother “so-and-so” (you) to let the DJ play it.  The correct answer is the DJ takes the blame for either “not having it,” or just politely says, “No, that song won’t fit in with what the crowd is into right now.”

9)  Real DJs work on a contract that guarantees services will be provided, and they have a higher retainer.  If a DJ only takes a $50-$100 retainer/deposit then it’s not hard for that DJ to back out if they want to.  It’s easy to refund a small amount like that… if they do refund you.  If there was no contract outlining the terms of the agreement they could easily take off with your money, and you would not waste the time or effort to try to get that money back.  A real DJ will provide a contract stating what services are provided, and, just in case, what happens should one or the other party cancels the agreement.  If the DJ cancels they should refund ALL of your money, and it needs to state this in the contract.  The retainer should also be in the neighborhood of $300 or more, or some professionals do 50% of the total.

10)  Real DJs know their value, and don’t undercut to get an event.  We’ve been conditioned by a world of never-ending sales and discounts, that when an honest price is given we always view it with skepticism.  We try to shop DJs like retailers, but DJs don’t operate like retailers.  DJs are not the same product at a different store so you buy the one with a lower price.  DJs need to be shopped like picking out a band.  This is an extreme example, but it’s like deciding between your neighbor’s garage band that can barely play “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and having Aerosmith perform.  You know the neighbor guys will do the job for $100, but they’re going to sound awful.  You know Aerosmith is going to cost more, but will be epic.  You would be foolish to say to Steven Tyler’s agent, “Hey can you come down in price, my neighbors will do the job for $100.”  DJs need to be approached the same way, and if they are willing to lower their price point to compete on a level that they’ve already surpassed then that’s not a good sign.  In fact, you can use that price to tell if the DJ is any good.  I’ll just be honest with you – for a spring/summer/fall wedding in this area if a DJ charges less than $800 they are the garage band.  Now, every once in a while a DJ might give a small discount, run a promotion, or they have lower rates for certain events out of season, and that’s ok.  Real DJs know their market, they’ve put together a business plan, and they charge accordingly.  You’re probably wondering how it helps you when you get charged more, and here’s your answer:  It ensures that the DJ you hire stays in business to serve you.  When you book a DJ a year out for a wedding, sweet 16, school dance, or graduation party you don’t want to be caught by surprise when that DJ goes out of business.  We get 50-100 calls per season from brides that have DJs who they hired for a few hundred bucks that back out on them, or don’t exist anymore.  These clients thought that they were saving a few dollars, but what ended up happening was an expensive mistake.  That’s why if a DJ is willing to cut their price just to undercut someone else, or they are really cheap to begin with, that is a red flag to walk away from.  They are racing to the bottom, and you don’t want to crash and burn with them.

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